GMOs and the Farmer

Current State of the Farmer in the USA

It is my desire to have you all know that I deeply respect my fellow farmers. You will never hear from me a degrading personal remark for those in the profession.  Farmers have been vilified by our culture for environmental reasons, farm management practices and all sorts of other societal follies, regardless of whether they are due.  Farmers are the wrong place to direct our judgment.  The overall industry leaders on the other hand will not escape my judgment and criticism. I have seen, in my lifetime, many small farmers go out of business and that is to say, the family farmer goes bankrupt, lose their home along with their livelihood.  Small farmers can lose almost EVERYTHING!

There is a lot of miss-information out there in our industry and it is difficult to discern what is right for our farm, our crops, our animals, our family and our community.  So much of our industry is currently being lead by large industrial complexes which may or may not have our farm’s, our crops’, our animals’, our family and our community’s best interest at heart.  Their primary concern is to look out for their investor’s best interest, to succeed, to dominate the market, to ensure the corporation’s survival – not the survival of your livelihood.  Keeping this in mind when reviewing this post is important in assessing what is the best farming management system for you to employ.

I can speak to the unhealthy nature of GMOs, the economic downfall of the GMO industry and how it cannot deliver on the promise to “Feed the World” long term, but I am choosing to focus on a GMO, conventional farming methodologies from the prospective of a traditional farmer using traditional farm management methodologies.

Heirloom Seeds: Heirloom seeds are seeds which breed true to type.  Their offspring are the same as the parent.  Using breeding methods, farmers and gardeners over a period of time have created essentially a variety of “breeds” for various vegetables, fruit, plants, grains and seeds.  They have not created new species.

Hybrid Seeds: Hybrid seeds are seeds which do not breed true to type.  Only one generation of seed will contain the desired traits such as disease resistance, size, yield and transport stability.  If a gardener saved seeds from a hybrid, the next planting would not breed true to its parents – it would be quite different.  It would not maintain those desired traits.  Hybrid seeds are not a new species, nor are they a new breed.  Hybrids are the same species (complimentary DNA & RNA) from different breeds.  For example: breeding a Labrador dog breed with a Poodle dog breed creates a hybrid dog called a Labradoodle.  A Labradoodle mated with another labradoodle will not produce the desired traits of a hypoallergenic dog with a beautiful, docile, trainable disposition.  It would express genetic traits which are more Labrador or more Poodle.

Genetically Modified Seeds: Genetically Modified seeds are seeds which have had their genome modified by splicing genes from one organism (plant or animal) and inserting this genetic information into a plant’s seed.  The traits spliced from other organisms are typically used to increase yield, to ensure chemical farming methods do not kill the plant, and more recently, to add nutrient value.   These seeds are a new “species”. GMO seeds are NOT same species.  For example: inserting genes from a fish into a tomato seed creates a GMO seed.  These seeds (typically) cannot be saved as a terminator gene has been spliced into its genetic makeup to ensure that seeds produced from GMO seeds are infertile, sterile, and unable to reproduce.    These seeds cannot occur in nature and can only be created in a lab using biotech methods of gene splicing.  “In traditional breeding, it is possible to mate a pig with another pig to get a new variety, but is not possible to mate a pig with a potato or a mouse. Even when species that may seem to be closely related do succeed in breeding, the offspring are usually infertile—a horse, for example, can mate with a donkey, but the offspring (a mule) is sterile.” (The GE Process, Institute for Responsible Technology)  Here are a few examples of gene modifications as stated in the article, The GE Process:

  • “Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
  • Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
  • Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
  • Artic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
  • Corn engineered with human genes (Dow)
  • Sugarcane engineered with human genes (Hawaii Agriculture Research Center)
  • Corn engineered with jellyfish genes (Stanford University)
  • Tobacco engineered with lettuce genes (University of Hawaii)
  • Rice engineered with human genes (Applied Phytologics)
  • Corn engineered with hepatitis virus genes (Prodigene)
  • Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
  • Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.”

Since this is such a foreign topic to most people; review of the Genetic Engineering Process seems to be in order.  This is the process which GMO soybeans are created.  Notice I say “created”; this is a new life form.  All GMOs are new life forms.   Also, take note that this process also creates new bacterium and/or viruses.

https://i0.wp.com/sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/ph/gmos/agrogeneng.gif

( http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/ph/gmos/agrogeneng.gif )

To paraphrase this process indicated in the image above, a biotech created bacteria’s plasmid “wall” is cut along with the cutting of the desired trait DNA sequences from the cauliflower mosaic virus, petunias and the agrobacterium tumefaciens.  These desired DNA traits are inserted into a soybean’s DNA using another bacteria to carry this foreign DNA to to soybean’s DNA.  Essentially, this process creates a new species, genus, family, order, class phylum and kingdom which we can now call Genetically Modified Organisms. Keep in mind the function and difference of DNA and RNA.  “Imagine you had a single cookbook filled with the recipes to cook everything you need and that cookbook is shared by many people, all who need regular access to it in order to make food and survive. You wouldn’t really want each person to take the entire book, or even a specific recipe out of the book, every time they needed it because that’s risky. What they spill food on it or set it on fire? It would be irreparably damaged, leading to the loss of important recipes needed for you to eat good food and live. Not to mention lugging a giant book of recipes is likely a pain. The solution? Keep the book safely in a massive fort and copy the recipe down onto another piece of paper whenever you need it! It’s easy to do and guarantees nothing important is lost or destroyed. If the copied recipe is damaged, who cares? You still have the original cookbook.  DNA and RNA are like the cookbook and the copied recipe. DNA is the original, irreplaceable cookbook containing every gene you’ll ever need. Anything happening to your DNA is more than likely going to result in death. So instead, you make RNA copies of whichever genes on the DNA you need and send those out to go do stuff. All the while, the DNA stays safe in highly guarded enclosure.” (How can you explain RNA and DNA to a Layman, Jai Padmakumar)  So, essentially DNA is the original and RNA is a copy.

3 Problems with GMOs

Problem #1: The Biotech Industry Creates New Bacteria, New Viruses and New Life

The biotech industry creates and then uses new bacteria or a new virus to splice the genes and insert the desired genetic trait of whatever: jellyfish, human, pigs, spiders, bacteria or viruses.  This means NEW bacteria and NEW viruses in the world; this also means new life, a new species.  Despite the biotech industry’s assurances of the containment of these new bacteria and new viruses, life has a way of getting out. It is the very essence of life to strive for survival and continuance of its kind.  “Nevertheless, there is still considerable public disagreement over the implications of introducing genetically-engineered species into the environment for testing or commercial purposes. Critics have been successful at obtaining court injunctions to stop the release of biological materials into the environment. Some scientists and ecologists claim that unlike risk assessment for synthetic chemicals, “there is no commensurate methodology for assessing the risks of released organisms.” 236 However, the overall likelihood of harm could rise as the number and variety of crop releases increase. If a problem occurs it could be high-risk with long-term unexpected consequences. Among the possibilities:

  • Altered crops could produce a toxic secondary metabolite or protein toxin;
  • Unrestricted self-perpetuation and spread of the organism might take place if the plant escapes the controlled field setting;
  • Transgenic crops could pass new genes to wild plants, in the process creating new and costly weed problems;
  • Novel transgenes might affect wild organisms and ecosystems in ways that are difficult to evaluate;
  • Altered plants, containing virus particles, might lead to creation of new viruses damaging to important crops and could require expensive control measures;
  • The risks to other organisms posed by plants engineered to express potentially toxic substances, including drugs and pesticides, are unknown; and
  • Commercialization of transgenic crops could threaten global crop diversity, particularly if the industry becomes more vertically integrated from the farmer through the food processor.

There is preliminary evidence that seems to support some of these concerns. Some exchanges of genetic information between plants in the field may occur by way of bacteria 237 or viruses: Evidence is rapidly accumulating that a blizzard of genetic material blows freely through the microbial world–not only between bacteria of the same species but also between members of distantly related species and between bacteria and viruses. “In terms of the flux of DNA, the general impression is that it goes anywhere and everywhere,” says Julian E. Davies, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia. . . . If environmental stress promotes gene exchange between bacterial species, genes deliberately engineered into microorganisms might spread more easily in nature than they do in the laboratory. . . . Experiments reported in Science in March [1994] indicate that plant viruses can combine the RNA that constitutes their genes with RNA from genes of genetically engineered plants. 238” (Ethical Issues and Risk Assessment in Biotechnology, Gus A. Koehler, PhD.)  These new bacterium, new viruses, new life forms have untold and unknown consequences.  It is exceedingly dangerous and we as farmers are the vehicles to these unknown dangers.

 

Problem#2:  GMOs Patent Life

GMOs patent life (living organisms), and create new species, genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom.  As a Christian, I have a spiritual objection to GMOs.  There are a vast number of biblical verses which give biblical insight into God’s view on farming.  I Life Classificationhave selected this quote because it illustrates my point well.  “Hybrids are traditionally a combination of two of the SAME species (see photo at right). Genetically engineered means two things from different taxonomic “kingdoms” have been combined (animal and vegetable, vegetable and mineral, or mineral and animal). This difference is HUGE. Hybrids are similar in cellular structure and DNA, GMOs are worlds apart in similarity. And in the case of something such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® seed, it appears they’ve combined the DNA from the plant kingdom with the animal and mineral kingdom. In short, hybrids follow the admonition of Genesis 1:11-12, GMOs do NOT.  “Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.” ~ Genesis 1:11-12” While not all Americans are Christian, “78% of American adults identify with some form of Christian religion” (Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States, Gallop), thus I feel it still applies.  However, in addition to a spiritual objection, I object to patenting life and creating a new species, genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom as a farmer.  In 1980, a Supreme Court decision allowed patents to be granted to living organisms, of genetic material such as DNA and RNA.   Once this occurred farmers big and small became targets of companies such as Monsanto.  The problem occurs when companies like Monsanto sue small farmers for patent infringement.  “The study, produced jointly by the Center for Food Safety and the Save Our Seeds campaigning groups, has outlined what it says is a concerted effort by the multinational to dominate the seeds industry in the US and prevent farmers from replanting crops they have produced from Monsanto seeds.  In its report, called Seed Giants vs US Farmers, the CFS said it had tracked numerous law suits that Monsanto had brought against farmers and found some 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and 56 small businesses in more than 27 states. In total the firm has won more than $23m from its targets, the report said.” (Monsanto sued small farmers to protect seed patents, Paul Harris)  Many small farmers have gone out of business because of Monsanto lawsuits.  On the surface, the solution seems so simple.  Some will say, “Well, it is the farmer’s fault, right?  Don’t buy and save seeds from Monsanto!”  Ahhhh, not so fast!  It doesn’t matter HOW Monsanto’s seed genes got into that farmer’s seed or crop.  Hmmmm… WHAT?  That’s right.  It doesn’t matter if pollen from Monsanto Corn has drifted in the wind or Monsanto Soybean pollen was cross-pollinated by bees from a neighboring farm’s legally purchased Monsanto seed to that farmer’s heirloom seed.  That small farmer is infringing upon Monsanto’s seed patent. It doesn’t matter if unscrupulous seed sellers mislabel a bag of seed.  That small farmer is infringing upon Monsanto’s seed patent.   Maybe the next argument would be, but how does Monsanto even know?  This cannot happen that often, the risk is so minimal it is worth the reward of a high yield for me as a farmer.  Well, sorry to say this but, that isn’t the case either.  Companies like Monsanto (Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, BASF) have entire research departments, utilizing information from their current buyers to determine if the neighboring farms are also using GMO seeds.  Smell of communism?  Ahhh, yeah.  Unbeknownst to the farmers using GMO seeds, they are “tattle-telling” on their neighbors, giving organizations like Monsanto the direction as to who to target for a lawsuit.  Are all the neighbors now wise?  Well, they switch tactics and have seed distribution companies provide them with the data instead.   How can that be?  Well, in my humble opinion, a huge failure of the FDA, USDA and our Justice System.  From one farmer to any other farmer, please understand what happens when you select these seeds. There are consequences for everyone.

Problem #3: Far Fewer Seed Varieties, Placing Everyone at Risk

“93% of seeds have been lost in the last 80 years” a large degree of this loss can be attributed to conventional, industrial farming practices and the use of GMO crops.  Large corporations have very large budgets to first research the concerns and desires of farmers, to second utilize research facilities and labs to generate a solution to these concerns and desires and to third, produce these solutions in the most economically viable (for the corporation) way and to lastly, market these solutions back to the farmer in the most convincing way possible.  When a farmer selects seeds for their growing season, they contribute to the world’s variety supply of seeds.  If a farmer selects an heirloom tomato variety which grows well in their little micro climate and another farmer selects a different heirloom tomato variety which grows well in their little micro climate, variety is maintained.  When a GMO crop is selected, which can grow anywhere, under multiple conditions, only one crop species is selected and stops the natural process which creates variety.  So, what’s the big deal?  Let’s take a look at history for the answer to that question.  The Irish Potato Famine.  For those of you who do not farm, potatoes are not grown from seed, but are grown from a piece of potato from the previous season – this essentially clones a potato.

In… “About 1590, potatoes were introduced to Ireland where farmers quickly discovered they thrived in their country’s cool moist soil with very little labor. An acre of fertilized potato field could yield up to 12 tons of potatoes, enough to feed a family of six for a year with leftovers going to the family’s animals. By the 1800s, the potato had become the staple crop in the poorest regions. More than three million Irish peasants subsisted solely on the vegetable which is rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin and Vitamin C. It is possible to stay healthy on a diet of potatoes alone. The Irish often drank a little buttermilk with their meal and sometimes used salt, cabbage, and fish as seasoning. Irish peasants were actually healthier than peasants in England or Europe where bread, far less nutritious, was the staple food.

Irish farmers utilized an ancient ‘lazy bed’ planting technique. Using a simple spade, they first marked long parallel lines in the soil about four feet apart throughout the entire plot. In between the lines, they piled a mixture of manure and crushed seashells then turned over the surrounding sod onto this, leaving the grass turned upside down. Seed potatoes were inserted in-between the overturned grass and the layer of fertilizer then buried with dirt dug-up along the marked lines. The potato bed was thus raised about a foot off the surrounding ground, with good drainage provided via the newly dug parallel trenches.

Planting occurred in the spring beginning around St. Patrick’s Day. Most of the poor Irish grew a variety known as Lumpers, a high yielding, but less nutritious potato that didn’t mature until September or October. Every year for the poor, July and August were the hungry months as the previous year’s crop became inedible and the current crop wasn’t quite ready for harvest. This was the yearly ‘summer hunger,’ also called ‘meal months,’ referring to oat or barley meal bought from price gauging dealers out of necessity. During the summer hunger, women and children from the poorest families resorted to begging along the roadside while the men sought temporary work in the harvest fields of England.

By autumn, the potatoes were ready to be harvested, carefully stored in pits, and eaten during the long winter into the spring and early summer. The Irish consumed an estimated seven million tons in this way each year. The system worked year after year and the people were sustained as long as the potato crop didn’t fail.”   (Irish Potato Famine, The History Place)

Well, we all are pretty aware of what happened next.  The Irish had one variety of potatoes that supplied them well with food for a long period of time, until…  In 1845-1849 the potato crop failed due to late blight.  This failure of Ireland’s staple crop caused significant starvation which was termed the Great Famine or the Irish Potato Famine and has the distinction of the worst European famine of the 19th century.  “As a direct consequence of the famine, Ireland’s population of almost 8.4 million in 1844 had fallen to 6.6 million by 1851” (Great Famine, Britannica)  Monoculture in crops and in seed varieties can have devastating consequences.  “If you were alive in 1903, you would have been able to choose from more than 500 varieties of cabbage, 400 varieties of peas and tomatoes, and 285 varieties of cucumbers.  Eighty years later in 1983, the varieties had dwindled sharply, to just 28 varieties of cabbage, 25 varieties of peas, 79 for tomatoes, and just 16 varieties of cucumbers.  In a comparison of seeds offered in commercial seed houses in the early 1900s to the seeds found in the National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983, researchers found 93 percent of seeds were lost over eight decades.” (93 Percent of the World’s Seeds Have Been Lost in the Last 80 Years, Health Impact News)  Our staple crop (wheat, corn, soybean, rice) varieties have dwindled to such few varieties, that we are jeopardizing our children’s and our grandchildren’s future ability to provide enough food for their families.  What happens when a GMO crop fails?   Mass starvation and world-wide famine with very little options to correct the problem will be our future.  Once these varieties are lost, the genetic information they contain are lost with them.  What a sad state of affairs.

Works Cited:

The GE Process, Institute for Responsible Technology, http://responsibletechnology.org/gmo-education/the-ge-process/
A Biblical Look at GMOs, Homestead Revival, November 4th, 2012, http://homesteadrevival.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-biblical-look-at-gmos.html
Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States, Frank Newport, Gallup Poll, Dec 2011, http://www.gallup.com/poll/151760/Christianity-Remains-Dominant-Religion-United-States.aspx
The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation, Joel Salatin, Book, http://www.polyfacefarms.com/2016/04/18/the-marvelous-pigness-of-pigs/
AgroGeneNG.gif, http://sphweb.bumc.bu.edu/otlt/mph-modules/ph/gmos/agrogeneng.gif
Soybean Seeds Sampling and DNA Extraction, Report on the Validation of a DNA Extraction Method from Soybean Seeds, Directorate General-Joint Research Centre, Institute for HEalth and Consumer Protection Biotechnology & GMOs Unit, Bayer CropScience GmbH, Community Reference Laboratory for GM Food and Feed (CRL-GMFF), http://www.phoschol.com/faqs/NutrasalGMO.pdf
How can you explain RNA and DNA to a Layman, Jai Padmakumar, Microbiology UW, Microbiology Graduate MIT, July 2016, https://www.quora.com/How-can-you-explain-RNA-and-DNA-to-a-layman

Monsanto sued small farmers to protect seed patents, Paul Harris, The Guardian, February 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/12/monsanto-sues-farmers-seed-patents
F.D.A. Airs Qualms Over Xenotransplants, Science, January 6, 1995,

Ethical Issues and Risk Assessment in Biotechnology, Author: Gus A. Koehler, PhD., Bioindustry: A Description of California’s Bioindustry and Summary of the Public Issues Affecting Its Development, http://www.library.ca.gov/CRB/96/07/BIOT_CH4.html
Monoculture and the Irish Potato Famine: cases of missing genetic variation, Understanding Evolution, http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/agriculture_02
93 Percent of the World’s Seeds Have Been Lost in the Last 80 Years, Health Impact News, Dr Mercola, http://healthimpactnews.com/2015/93-percent-of-the-worlds-seeds-have-been-lost-in-the-last-80-years/
Irish Potato Famine, The History Place, http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/introduction.htm
Great Famine, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Famine-Irish-history
Lost Varieties – Wheat, Corn, Amy Gwh, Nov 2014, http://beforeitsnews.com/self-sufficiency/2014/11/lost-varieties-wheat-corn-2482918.html

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